David Bellamy – Ice on the Equator

For many years one of my ambitions has been to climb Mount Kenya to sketch those amazing peaks and the other-worldly plants that grow high on the mountain. Most people head for Kilimanjaro, as it’s the highest in Africa, but Mount Kenya is much more beautiful. So this month I thought if I don’t do it soon I never will.

I aimed to get up to around 14,000 feet from where I would be able to sketch the peaks. It’s not a difficult climb, but I’d been unwell with a chest infection most of the winter, and climbing to high altitude with breathing problems was a pretty crazy thing to do. Interestingly there are many wild animals on the slopes of the mountain: buffalo, elephant, panthers, and possibly the occasional lion, so hiking with that lot round the corner could be quite an experience!

I set off with a guide called Wilson, a cook and porter named Chris and a second porter, Stanley. Apart from my chest ailment I was also suffering from Delhi Belly, which tended to weaken me. Day 2 was an especial struggle. It began badly when, as I was eating breakfast in a hut a monkey ran in and grabbed my pancake, egg and a slice of bread, and shot off, leaving a trail of breakfast debris behind him. As the mountain lies on the equator the daytime heat was overpowering and although I only carried a daysack it was really heavy with extra water, sketching gear and all sorts of other gear. Heavy rain on the second day made things worse and high up I had to make frequent stops. By then we were amongst the exotic plants, so I sketched many of these as I rested. Eventually we found a cave to stay overnight, and as it had its own amazing garden of exotic plants I could happily sketch away from the cave entrance.

 Day 3 dawned bright and clear but I was eating my breakfast before dawn for an early start. After setting off we soon encountered ice-glazed rock. Six am on Mount Kenya is a magical time to be climbing, even when you are functioning well below par and this was the most enjoyable part of the climb. Wilson was extremely knowledgeable and we made better progress in the cool of the early morning. A glorious blue sky was punctuated only by strings of mare’s-tails over the peaks which rose sharply in front of us as we climbed a rocky ridge. I then sketched quickly, well aware that by late morning those peaks were likely to disappear, and sure enough, much earlier than I expected the clouds rolled in – lovely wispy airy clouds, but still gradually blotting out the view. This was disappointing, but I’d had a great few hours before the clouds arrived, and although my sketches were not my best, I had achieved what I came here to paint.

I organised the trip through Mount Kenya Climbers, based in Naro Moru. Their contact address is  info@mtkenyaclimbers.co.ke  and my guide was Wilson Gatoto who is happy to arrange expeditions up many of East Africa’s mountains. His email address is   legohi@yahoo.com   Chris provided some excellent meals, but sadly I had little appetite. Stanley was a really cheerful and considerate fellow and as his daughter enjoyed art I gave him some paints, a brush and paper before I left. I did have further adventures with wildlife, but that’s another story…..

10 thoughts on “David Bellamy – Ice on the Equator

  1. Fascinating, I love your adventures David. What an experience and so lucky to sketch in such an environment. And yes, hope you’re well recovered !

  2. I hope the LIKE button shows up as ut did not look as though it would. Must be an amazing place to see. I am way too old but like wildlife. Looking forward to more about your exciting trip. Lots, myself included, have suffered those same winter health travails. You are not alone. It is touring gere are niw across the bug pond in US and Canada.

  3. What an amazing experience but hard with your health problems. Do take care of yourself otherwise there won’t be any expeditions. Do hope you are fully recovered now. Talk about suffering for your art!
    Having been housebound all winter myself the urge to get out is overwhelming but for now I will have to be satisfied with seeing all the spring flowers coming up in the garden and be an armchair traveller.
    I personally do think that the best paintings are done on the spot or from preliminary work done on the spot. Well done to you, your spirit of adventure is remarkable as is your superb artwork. Best wishes.

  4. I hope you are preparing another book of these adventures! This is much too short an appetizer! I do share your passion for outdoor, wildlife, climbing mountains – and sliding down them -, but no longer have the guts to go it alone or go it at all, beyond our local hills… So you are right to push the boat while you can.
    I enjoyed your paintings and Jenny’s pastels at Patchings today. Impatient for the Festival to come along.

  5. Well done David, an inspiration to us all , so congratulations all round. Must have been a wonderful climb though. Hope you are recovering well by now.

  6. What a guy! Well done ;not only for realising your dream, but doing so in such style! Cook and 2 porters sounds great, bet Jenny was hoping you would bring them home with you! Beautiful mountain painting. Glad you had a wonderful trip , hope your health remains good ! Love to you both xxxxx

  7. Hope you are feeling better, David! I think you are so brave and adventurous to climb when you are sick with chest ailments. Thank God you are Ok! Overall, I think you achieved your goals.

  8. I’m so inspired by your determination to paint even in the most challenging circumstances. Looking forward to seeing you at Patchings again. Take care and stay well. Your paintings website is among the best things I have ever found on my laptop.

  9. Great David. Moral, get as much done as you possibly can while you are still fit enough. It’s surprising how quickly health restrictions can catch up with you. Think Nigel!!! Your episode with breakfast and the monkey reminds me of a time in the rift valley when with about ten people eating lunch at a large table, a very large male baboon came an up-ended the table. The whole troop then descended on the spoils left on the ground. You don’t argue with something with teeth that large. On another occasion, I left Bev in our hut reading while I went to visit another part of the camp. Unfortunately, I left the door open. Bev thought she heard me come back and thought no more about it until she realised that there was a very large baboon sitting at the table beside her quietly removing all the sugar sachets from the tea making facility…..Never a dull moment. So keep travelling while you can and enjoy every moment, and we all look forward to see more of your travels in described paintings.

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